NRL News

Major Advance Using Ethical Stem Cells

by | Oct 31, 2014

By Barbara Lyons, Executive Director Emerita
Wisconsin Right to Life

majadvCellular Dynamics International (CDI), a Madison, Wisconsin-based company, has been awarded a $1.2 million contract from the National Eye Institute to engineer stem cells acquired ethically for potential treatment of macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness. This contract represents CDI’s first venture into making cells for therapeutic use.

The Eye Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, will send blood and tissue to CDI from 10 patients who have age-related macular degeneration.

According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story, “CDI will convert the blood or tissue into stem cells, then program them to become new retinal cells of the type damaged in macular degeneration.”

“Scientists at the company will, in essence, rewind the cells to create the equivalent of embryonic stem cells,” according to Kathleen Gallagher and Mark Johnson. “They will then nudge the cells forward in the developmental process to become retinal pigment epithelial cells.” The eventual goal is to transplant the reprogrammed cells behind the retina in the original patient.

Because a patient’s own cells will be programmed, the risk of rejection will be significantly reduced.  The process will take several years to be accomplished.

This type of therapeutic use of stem cells using ethical means is exactly what was envisioned when scientists in Madison and Japan discovered the iPS cells in 2007.  It is a science that can be embraced by everyone since no one has to die for the cells to be acquired.

(Editor’s note. “iPS cells” –induced pluripotent stem cells–are made by adding a few genes to a normal cell but without using embryos, eggs, or cloning technology. They are not “adult stem cells,” but rather an ethically derived version of embryonic stem cells.)

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